Introducing the New Testament

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey

Cover Art

Discussion Prompts

  1. Do the Pastoral Letters “domesticate Paul” (take away his edginess)? How so or why not?
  2. Reread 1 Timothy 5. What does the author mean by “widows” here? Is this a specific office of the church or a description of the social status of some women? Why? What is your evidence?
  3. Does Paul (the author) give good advice to the leaders (Timothy or Titus) he has left in charge in Ephesus or in Crete? What kind of leadership is Paul establishing in these communities? What roles do moral exemplars serve in the community? Why is such detailed morality the criterion for local leadership?

Pedagogical Suggestions

Adjudicating Authenticity: One Letter at a Time

1. Powell mentions that it is important to read each of the Pastoral Letters separately and on its own terms. Have students read and identify the major themes and key theological points in 2 Timothy. How does this letter compare to the undisputed letters? Can you find similar phrases, images, concepts? How different is this letter from, say, Philippians? Describe Paul’s tone, his concerns, and his rhetorical modes in the letter. Is this Paul?
Now read 1 Timothy. How is this writing different? Does it sound more or less like Paul’s voice, tone, style, and concerns?

Rationale

This exercise asks students to experiment with the historical questions scholars must decide and to work through the literary evidence for adjudicating authenticity.

Advice to the Representative Leader

2. We have seen that determining the genre of a New Testament writing can offer many insights. Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, in his Anchor Bible Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy, argued that one can understand the Pastoral Letters through a type of letter called mandata principis (Latin for “commands of the ruler”). Such a letter form contained commands (mandata) and advice to the leader of a particular community and was meant to be read in public—before both the leader and the assembly together. This public reading of commands and advice to the representative leader functioned to hold both leader and community accountable to one another in the instituting and following of the commands from the author. Because everyone hears the commands, everyone works to implement them and maintain accountability. This strengthens the hand of the representative leader, who receives encouragement and the confidence of his or her superior. It also holds the leader accountable to the people while legitimating the “commands” that the representative must now implement in the assembly.

How might each of the three letters be examples of such a genre of letter? In what way is the author (Paul) encouraging and supporting the addressee (Timothy or Titus) and in what ways is the author setting expectations for behavior among all the believers in the assembly?

Rationale

A few pedagogical principles are at work here. First, it is good to complement the main author and instructor voices in the classroom with additional perspectives. Hopefully, instructors can integrate various perspectives as they teach.

Here is another possibility for reading the Pastoral Letters. Johnson concludes that 2 Timothy is the most likely to be authentic, while the other letters are less defensible. He comes to this conclusion in part after identifying a possible genre parallel from ancient literature. Students may find this a complementary perspective to the primary voices of their instructor and Powell’s scholarship.

Additionally, students can test the application of this basic genre for themselves, working to see how the genre comparison opens up or closes off interpretive possibilities. Presenting the mandata principis form also encourages students to imagine how a letter might function rhetorically when addressed to one person but read to an entire house church assembly.